Amsterdam with Kids
Updated: Mar 9, 2020
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Amsterdam is the Netherland's capital city filled with an intricate canal system and architecture that stretches back to before the 17th century. This amazing city reflects the Golden Age of the 17th Century and is full of unlimited things to do. One can walk along its canals with canal houses that seem to be holding each other up as bikes zip by you. Every cafe and shop seems to have an ordinance that requires it to be adorable. Anyone who visits will find it very hard to not become smitten with this charming city.
We visited Amsterdam with kids, as we do on most adventures. I have been several times now and gone with different people each time. I always find a reason to go back to Amsterdam, whether it's a missed museum, shopping, or just to eat good food at charming cafes. I've put together a list of my favorite things to do with kids. All of these activities could be fun for families or individuals. I have a included a couple of tips that are important if traveling to Amsterdam with kids.
*A couple of the companies listed in this blog post sponsored our family. We loved the companies and sought them out after utilizing them several times in our trips to Amsterdam.
What to do in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the city of bikes. There are more bicycles than people. Most blogs I have read suggest renting a bike and getting out in the city and exploring. There is some merit to this but if you have been to Amsterdam with kids, I will tell you the bike riding is pretty intimidating. Bikers have the right away....even over pedestrians (What!). This is a booming city so in some parts there are tourists everywhere and navigating people, your own kids, and the other local bikers seems like a recipe for a panic attack. Queue the best bike tour company I have ever been on....We Bike Amsterdam.
I have been on many bike tours in different cities and We Bike Amsterdam is by far the best bike tour company. They are a company that does small group tours so everyone gets an intimate expreince. They have cool bikes for kids like the container bikes and tandem bikes where the smaller kids can pedal on the front. This is awesome because when kids are on the front, their visibility is better and they are less likely to get bored. Kids 8 and older can ride their own bike. Before each tour they let everyone test their bikes out to make sure they are a good fit. I will say the tandem and the container bike are a bit tricky initially to navigate but I got the hang of it. The smartest thing this company does to relieve a parent's stress is to have the solo kid riders follow right behind the guide to ensure their safety. We had Thijs as our "chief cycling officer" and he built up a repoire with the kids before we started and then led the way for them. Somehow kids listen better when a grown up, other than their parents, gives them instructions.
We Bike Amsterdam cycles you outside of the main touristy part of the city and through the quiet streets of Amsterdam. You will head into the Jordaan district and stop half way at the cutest cafe. In the winter there are lit candellabras on the table. In the warmer months you can sit out and enjoy the sunshine.
Afterwards we cycled through a gorgeous park in the city. Along the way, we stopped and the guide gave us some facts about the city. Thijs offered to take as many pics as we wanted. I have done the "City Tour" twice and their "Countryside Tour" once. Both are awesome tours depending on what you are looking for. If you have never been to the city, I recommend the city tour. The countryside tour is beautiful and takes you outside of the city into the beautiful surrounding villages. My whole family LOVED this tour.
Anne Frank House
Duh! It's amazing. The kids and I read the book before our visit so it would stay fresh in our minds. My two older kids read the book themselves and I read it to the two preschoolers. You'd be suprised at what little kids will understand. The museum offers a 30 minute historic talk before the tour and I highly recommend it. It's kid friendly and gives a braod overview of the Frank family and the time period. It even covered some information that wasn't in the book. It is also good for adults who read the book a long time ago and want a refresher. The tour guide asked some questions and my preschoolers actually answered... which is why I never assume that kids are too little to understand a topic.
The Anne Frank House is one of the most popular attractions in Amsterdam. Book your tickets in advance. By in advance, I mean when you book your plane tickets. There is even a queue online...but it moves quickly. You can book up to 3 months in advance.
*The Secret Annix does not actually have furniture. My kids could not relate as much because they couldn't visualize how the Frank family lived in that space. Just prepare them in advance. Otto Frank took the furniture out before it became a museum because it just felt too personal to leave all of his family's belongings.
Visit a Museum
One will never run out of things to do in Amsterdam. There are countless museums: Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, Amsterdam Museum, Stedelijk Museum, Rembrandt House Museum.....goes on and on. If traveling with kids, go to each information desk at the museum and ask what sort of activities or ammenities they have for kids. They usually have an activity book or suggestions for how to enhance your family's experience.
We chose to go to the Van Gogh Museum because our kids were already familiar with the artist and learned about him at school. The Van Gogh Museum is located in the Museum Quarter, next to all of the famous museums in Amsterdam. This area is cool to visit. Right outside the museums is a huge grassy park and playground .The museums are gorgeous and the architecture of each is quite different from one another.
The Van Gogh Museum is beautiful with multiple levels of Van Gogh history. The museum follows his life in chronological order. You can get an audio guide to follow along. If you have kids, go to the information desk and get a free kids guide. It is a scavanger hunt that will take you through Van Gogh's fascinating life. The children's guide has them draw pictures, find certain paintings, and give their opinion on certain pieces. Once they have completed their guides/activity book, they can show it to the information counter and pick out a free prize. The regular audio guides follow a different sequence than the children's guide. We had friends with us who opted to split off and do the adult audio guide. The hubs and I opted to just follow along with the kid's guides and read the displays. I'm pretty sure we even learned something from the children's guide.
*My son Jude wanted me to add ,"audio guides can be a pain to use for little kids and one might need to help their little brother readjust their headset the entire tour"...big brother problems. Also, he says "visit the cafaeteria bc the tomato bisque is delicious".
*This is a very popular attraction in Amsterdam so book your tickets in advance. You want to be able to avoid the line so buy your ticket online. Go early in he morning so you can enjoy the art without the crowds.
Visit the Cat Museum
Amsterdam is full of goofy museums like the Cheese Museum, the Purse and Handbag Museum...we chose the "the Cat Museum" or "Katten Kabinet" It is quirky. It is in an old historic house full of cat memnorabilia. The house itself could be a museum on its own. dating back to 1667. My kids are quite obsessed with cats so we couldn't miss it. There's even a couple live cats who hang out in the museum. My kids were stopping to pet a cat on the street and an elderly man smiled and said, "the Dutch love cats". We looked out of our hotel room one night at the adjacent apartment building and saw every window filled with a cat looking out at the night sky.
On this particular day, it was quite cold outside. We chose to head to this little museum to warm up and get a break from the weather. It's inexpensive and a crowd pleaser. The hubs and I liked walking through the old house and asking questions about the history. The kids loved all things cats.
Visit the only floating Cat Sanctuary in the World
Are you seeing a pattern here? Sorry. Not sorry. De Poezen Boot or "The Cat Boat" is the only floating cat sanctuary. It was established in 1968. This canal boat is situated on a canal area where the cats can look out and enjoy the view (and they really do). Visitors can go in and visit with the cats or adopt one, if they feel like bring home a live souvenir. Due to popularity, book your time slot in advance online. VIsiting hours are only 1pm-3pm and can fill up quite quickly. This sanctuary has become popular in the past few years. It is free to visit but you can make a small donation. This was on my kids' bucket list and something they still talk about. You can only visit the cats for 15 minute time slots, so this is a short excursion. It's in the main tourist area so you won't have to go out of your way to make this little stop.
Take a Canal Boat Tour
There are several boat tours to choose from in Amsterdam. This is my favorite way to explore the canals and get a feel for the city. My favorite company to choose is The Friendship Rederij Amsterdam. These are a smaller canal boats with less people. It is an open boat that gives better visibility. In the winter the boat has a small covering. They give you blankets and hot drinks. This canal cruise is out of the main toursity spots so you won't have to deal with the crowds. The hosts are friendly, speak english, and easy on the eyes (just saying). I use this company every time I go to Amsterdam. My kids love the cananl boat tours. Their boats feel like you are riding in a friend's canal boat. My kids enjoy seeing the different house boats along the way. We like to pick out which house boat we would live in.
Another fun option for canal boat tour is" Plastic Whale boats". These boats are striving to help the environment by having the passengers collect plastic in the canals. Each passenger is given a net and encouraged to gather plastic. The boats are actually made of recycled plastic removed from the canals. I can not stress how fun this would be for kids and grownups. The net alone would make my four year old happy. Kids get a better understanding of repurposing their collected plastic once they realize their boat is made from the same type of plastic they collected. We passed one of these boats on our canal boat and my kids were quite curious about these boats. It's a cool way to give back to this beautiful city while decreasing one's "over tourism" guilt.
The NEMO Science museum is an interactive science center that is great for the whole family. There are so many areas for kids to run around and explore. Once you get to the museum, make sure you walk up to the roof. Yes, the roof is shaped like a ramp and you can walk form the ground level to the top.The top of the NEMO provides great views of Amsterdam. Kids under 3 are free and everyone else is 17.50 (in Euros). We chose to do this on the rainy day of our trip. My husband actually took our kids (4, 6, 10, 12) and my niece (4) with him alone. I had some work to do and then I had some free knock around time with just my oldest daughter bc I couldn't drag the rest of my family out of the NEMO...Hello cute shops! They had a blast. There is also a "Future of Food Exhibition" attached to the NEMO that is free with your ticket. Adults and older kids would find this interesting.
Take a Day Trip to Haarlem
Haarlem is a 15 minute train ride from central station. It is known as "Mini Amsterdam". It truly looks just like that. It has the canals, a farmers market, adorable shops and restaurants, and beautiful St. Bravos's cathedral in the center. The best part is...no crowds, no red light district, and no long walk anywhere. It is small and adorable. This is the best place to knock around. Walk down the little streets and see the cutest houses. Healthy and happy cats wander around, much to my cat obsessed children's delight.
There's an old windmill that you can tour through. It is not crowded and the guide will explain how the dams and dykes work in Amsterdam. Really interesting to the kids and husband. My mind wanders so I was happy when it was over. I was happy (as a mom) that everyone else enjoyed this educational opportunity.
*If your kids are looking for little knick knacky souvinrs (groan). I can't blame them. They have a cute and cheap selection in the downstairs of the windmill. Cheaper than most gift shops and not overwelming for littles to pick something.
If you like the Anne Frank House, you'll love the Corrie Ten Boom Museum.
This is also in Haarlem. The Boom family rescued 800 Jewish people during WWII in their underground circle. They hid some in their house for months at a time. This museum offers you a tour of the house and goes into depth about the extreme measures the family had to take to help their community. Their house was very innovative for the time with a hiding place built into the wall and secret buzzers that would signal trouble. Truly fascinating. You will find it is much easier to make reservations to this house. I recommend you read the book, "The Hiding Place" before your visit. My older kids read it and loved it. In the house, the guide actually let the kids climb into the "hiding place", ring the secret buzzer, and taught them a special poem that Corrie Boom lived her life by.
*If you have toddlers this would be tricky to visit because there is a 30 minute chat in the living room as part of the tour. We did have two 4 year olds with us and they did fine. Any younger and you'd have to use your own judgement based on your child's personality. Again, this is an emotional tour for most visitors. Parents need to be respectful of the subject matter and the other patrons visiting. When our tour guide allowed us to crawl into the actual "hiding place", I had to remind my kids that this is not a playground and it's not a happy place to hide. At the time they started to go into a happy play mode when the tour guide said they could crawl into the "hiding place".
If you go in the winter, Amsterdam has the "Amsterdam Light Festival". These are art pieces set up as light installations set up though out the city. If visiting in December, visit the Christmas markets.
General Tips for Amsterdam
Get away from Amsterdam Central Station area as soon as possible. It is the main entrance into the city. The streets right around it are full of tourists, fast moving bikes and young people looking to party. Instead head to the Jordaan area in Amsterdam. It is full of cute shops and cafes. There are still tourists but it feels less chaotic.
The Red Light District is not only in one area. There is a large area that mostly has red light district shops but there are a few scattered around the city. It is unavoidable. Talk to your kids before hand about maybe seeing some nudity or odd things occasionally. If you have toddlers or preschoolers it might not be a big deal to see a naked person standing in a window, but older kids will react to this. I didn't have a problem with my kids seeing this, but I did have a problem with their reaction. There was a lot of laughing and screaming involved. I had to tell them it is not polite to laugh at anyone. It is important to respect everyone's lifestyle even if it's not one's own. I was prepared for them to see some nudity but I was unprepared for their reaction, so learn from my mistakes and prepare your older kids.
Cafe's called "coffee shops" do not sell coffee. They sell cannabais. Don't go into them for your morning latte.
Stay on the sidewalk or walking path. Never walk in the bike lane. Bikers have the right of way in Amsterdam, so if you are run over by a bike, it will be your fault. The bike path in Amsterdam is typically red... and to make things really fun, the sidewalk is sometimes red as well. Why Amsterdam? Why? Look to the right and left before you cross the street. Hold your child's hand when crossing the street. My 9 year old was run over by a bike when we were near the train station...which is also why I say to not hang out in that area too much.
Don't try to drive in to the city center. This is a city below sea level so there is not underground parking and limited parking space, so parking will be very expensive if you...if you actually find a space to park in. Traffic will be slow and did I mention there are bikes everywhere?
Don't exchange currency at the airport.Wait until you leave the airport and find an ATM. This is a general rule for traveling everywhere in Europe. Amsterdam is a European city that is better about taking credit and debit cards, but it is nice to have some on hand.
Pubs are a great place to grab an inexpensive lunch. They are all kid friendly and serve small plates that are perfect for lunch .Most cafe's are tiny and adorable so if you have a family and want to walk in and get a seat, go to lunch and dinner early. You could also grab a dinner reservations.
If you see "toasties" on a menu, they are paninis or grilled cheese sandwiches. They are usually only a couple Euros and great for kids. They serve them at almost every pub.
Everyone speaks English....and quite well I might add. Still, a "dank je wel" goes a long way when saying "thank you".
Train travel is not as romantic as one imagines.
If you have a straight shot on the train, like from Amsterdam central to Haarlem... no problem. If you have connections on different trains, be prepared for delays and missing connections. If you are traveling long distances in Europe on the train, involving connections, plan for mishaps. I have them almost every time I travel long distances via train. I took the train from Germany to Amsterdam round trip. The travel time was supposed to be 6 hours. It was a million hours because every darn train we got on was delayed and we missed connections. Also, not every train in Europe is created equal. Some are luxurious and seem relaxing with centralized air. Some feel like cattles cars with no air flow in the height of summer. Most of the train announcements are probably not in English, so you may wonder why everyone in the train is getting off when it is not supposed to be your stop. I'll tell you why. It's because the train is broken or just doesn't feel like running, so you need to get off and find another one headed in the direction you are traveling. Also, unless you have a first class ticket with a seat reservations, you have to find an open seat. During high travel times, it might be hard to sit with your whole party or even find a seat. Just be prepared for things to not always run on schedule. In case you can't tell, I had a very arduous experience with my very mellow four year old and poor parents traveling with me to Amsterdam. The whole time I was thankful that I didn't have all my kids with me. Phew. I'm glad I got that off my chest. Just saying...
* p.s. Sometimes I exaggerate to get my point across.
Whenever and however you get to Amsterdam, it will be worth it.
Be prepared to not want to leave
I have yet to find a place in the Netherlands that isn't charming and Amsterdam is not exception. Amsterdam is a gem of a city and one families and travelers will continue to visit. There is so much to do and always reasons to come back. Amsterdam has a high tourism rate so respect and embrace the city. Sometimes at the end of a trip, people are ready to go home. That will not happen in Amsterdam. I have always left without feeling ready. Enjoy your visit!
Have you been? Are you going? What are your favorite things to do? Places to eat?
Dank je Wel,